Obama’s Approach to Disarmament as Self-Sabotaging as Debt-Ceiling Deal

During the debt-ceiling siege, the Obama administration not only cast its lot with the Republicans on spending cuts, but agreed to refrain from increasing the tax rate for the rich. As if that weren’t enough, it conceded closing tax loopholes (in effect, giving the rich license to continue breaking the letter of the law). Then, as if the guiding principle of negotiating hadn’t already been turned on its head, the Obama administration began driving its head into the floor when it offered to push back the age for Medicare and make the cost of living adjustments for Social Security stingier. Bear in mind, this was all in the service of raising the debt ceiling, which, in the past, was often rubber-stamped with no need for Congressional approval.

We see a similar pattern on the part of the Obama administration in its approach to disarmament. For instance, it proposed massive amounts of money — $85 billion over 10 years — to maintain and modernize America’s nuclear program. This was intended as a means to convince Republican senators to ratify New START, a treaty whose cuts to disarmament were token to the point that it serves as more of a confidence building measure with Russia (yeah, after all these years, the United States and Russia is still trying to get its relationship off the ground).

Of course, the Obama administration’s wish to fund the nuclear program more extravagantly than the Bush administration may have been genuine. It seems equally likely that, in its heart, it aspires to cut spending and social services programs (however helpful it believes it would be to its long-term plans according to its increasingly tortuous thought process).

But, roughly paralleling Republican rejection of the proposal to cut social services programs because it wasn’t totally devoid of raising taxes, back on June 15, reported Walter Pincus in the Washington Post, Republicans (as well as Democrats) in the House of Representatives cut “the funds that the Obama administration had pledged for [nuclear] upgrades and modernization. The House Appropriations subcommittee that approves funding of the weapons complex, run by the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA), just whacked almost $500 million from the weapons program.”

Then, this past Wednesday, August 3, reports Global Security Newswire:

An Obama administration proposal to dramatically increase nuclear weapons funding in coming years has little chance of proceeding under a newly negotiated deal to raise the federal debt ceiling, lawmakers and independent specialists said. [The deal] calls for relatively small reductions over the next 12 months, but it would require $350 billion in military-related funding cuts over the next decade. … With the agreement in force, President Obama and his successors will have difficulty adhering to the 10-year, $85 billion nuclear weapons complex spending plan unveiled by the White House in November, said Kingston Reif, an expert with the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation. In addition, failure to enact additional budget reductions to be negotiated by a special congressional panel would result in further major cuts to defense spending, which the deal defines to include the Energy Department agency responsible for overseeing the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

If the Obama administration truly cared about disarmament, rejection of the compromises it offered the Republicans as, in effect, too much of a good thing, would be mortifying. It would be taken as a sign that it should do some soul searching and revise its timid approach to disarmament. (Arms control staff, no doubt trying to make the best of a bad situation, such as Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Rose Gottemoeller, excepted.)

Meanwhile, the Republicans know that in better economic times (one can dream, can’t he?), it can prevail upon President Easy Mark, or his Democratic successors, to re-allocate those funds to the National Nuclear Security Agency.